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The mid-size 2011 Dodge Avenger sedan gets a new drivetrain, new suspension pieces and new front and rear clips as Chrysler tries to rehab the image of this rental-car mainstay.
The Avenger's sheetmetal carries over virtually unchanged. Change is good, but the Avenger already had a lock on brand unity with its mini-Charger stance and upkicked rear quarters. The headlamps and taillamps are simplified, but the crosshairs on the Avenger's grille trade metallic ribs for meatier bright-and-black pieces. Inside, the Avenger gets a new dash, which looks great, with convincing quantum leaps in style and materials. The Avenger's dash cap is sculpted a bit more over its gauges; the climate controls are streamlined, and rings of bright and matte metallic plastic are fine contrasts to most of the soft-touch plastic. The lower half of the Avenger's dash seems to wear lower-grade plastic than the 200, and some of the same carryover gauges and buttons are more noticeable, surrounded by better-quality bits.
A 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder carries over from last year's Avenger as the base engine in the 2011 Dodge Avenger, but the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is new across the board to the Chrysler lineup. The new V-6 drops 283 horsepower in the front-drive Avenger's engine bay, with 260 pound-feet of torque twisting through a six-speed automatic transmission. On the spec sheet, that's higher output than the new Sonata 2.0T turbo, the Fusion V-6 and the Regal GS. In practice, the smooth windup of the six just can't be controlled with the Avenger's small-car strut-and-multilink suspension. Mash the gas hard and the Avenger weaves on takeoff with corresponding steroidal twitches of torque steer before it takes a straight-ahead set. Chrysler's new six-speed automatic isn't the best companion for the power either.
The Avenger still has hydraulic power steering, augmented by a lower ride height in front than in back, which leaves it with more natural feedback and bite in its steering than most other mid-size sedans. Somehow, the effort still comes across as somewhat uninspired when matched with the powertrain issues, however.
The 2011 Dodge Avenger has roughly the same interior space found in the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, or the latest Ford Fusion and Subaru Legacy, some of TheCarConnection's most highly rated four-doors. Head room and leg room are equal to or better than most, though the Avenger's trunk is on the small side of the scale. But the Avenger suffers some for the mini-Charger style—especially in the back seat. While the Sonata's tall, airy greenhouse lets in plenty of light, the Avenger's tall shoulders and low roofline—and dark trim most everywhere inside save for the upholstery—feels more confining, even though its flat but wide front seats have enough acreage for the target market. Tucking into the back seats is a little trickier than in some competitors because of the body structure's higher sills and lower roof cutouts (disguised very well by tall door skins).
In five different trims, the 2011 Dodge Avenger spreads out standard features and options. The Express is the base edition; stepping up the ladder to Mainstreet, Heat, Lux and R/T models adds on new gear. All versions offer air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; 17-inch wheels; a split-folding rear seat; and cloth upholstery. Bluetooth, satellite radio and a USB port are unavailable on the base Avenger Express; they're standard or optional on other models.